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Life and Times of an itinerant slacker in Sacramento. Thrills, Spills Galore coming soon. Not to mention lots of opinions.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

My Day in Reform School

My recorder consort, Sine Nomine, visited a reform school in Marysville, a small and impoverished city about 50miles north of Sacramento. It is notable that the Chamber of Commerce chose to present only historical photos on their website. That says it all. Houses in Marysville tend to go for Midwestern prices or lower, however, the community offers almost no jobs.

The small reform school we visited teaches the Waldorf program. All students in Waldorf schools do art and music in the afternoon. Each week ends with a short afternoon concert, where the students’ music groups perform. The school requires all the kids learn music by playing recorder in small groups. That’s the cheapest effective way to teach music, and it’s well entrenched in the modern German culture from which Waldorf arises. The teachers asked us to play a concert near the end of the year. Although the students did a great job of listening, I suspect I learned more than most of them in our afternoon together.

The school has about 60 students, all high school aged. The students come to the school through either the County’s juvenile justice system, or disciplinary expulsion from the public schools. Extreme discipline is the underlying principle of the school’s operation. Of all the students, only one consistently avoids detentions. Of course, when they raffled off a pass to get out of 30 minutes of detention, that kid won the raffle. It did raise the question in my mind that, “If this kid can follow rules so well, what’s he doing in this school?”. It’s probably best not to know.

The teachers told us that almost all the students are involved in gang activity, and I have to admit the kids looked pretty tough to me. The schools mandatory uniform is blue jeans and white t-shirts, which made the kids look even tougher. I was surprised that several of the older boys sported goatees. We and the teachers were all pleased that it turns out the best and most enthusiastic recorder player in the school is also reputed to be the toughest kid. This kid was over 6 feet tall, stocky and muscular. I was tempted to ask him to borrow his baggy jeans so I could use them as a four-person camping tent. I somehow managed to resist that temptation. The teachers said his enthusiasm has been a big help, since every boy new to the school would initially object to playing a “gay flute”, until the tough guy gave them a look. I enjoyed spending time with the students, however I probably would not have enjoyed meeting them at 1 AM, unless I was looking to score meth or “whatever the kids are calling it these days”.

We played two 20 minute sets of 16th and 17th Century music. We played tow galliards by John Dowland ,and two strange sounding galliards by Carlo_Gesualdo , whose music sounds like what you’d get if Miles Davis wrote strange harmonic incidental music for Shakespeare’s plays. Gueswaldo, the Prince of Venosa, was well known in his time for a murder so brutal even 16th Century Europe was scandalized. And better yet, he had a servant whose job was to periodically whip his master. Of course, with all this to recommend him, Gueswaldo has of late become a favorite composer in Sine Nomine’s repertoire.

Between our sets, the student’s groups played. I was very impressed with the silence and attention the students gave us when we played. If my tutoring students gave me the same degree of attention, I bet they’d get better grades. Unfortunately, the students were not as polite to their peers as they were to us. Several more detentions were assigned. One of the teachers took some pictures, which he will hopefully remember to email to me. I will share them as soon as I get them (if I get them).

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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I must enjoy shouting into a vacuum, but I think about getting my act together one of these days. My mom says I am very handsome and intelligent.

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